Event at West End Social Club Aims to Educate and Save Lives

The Goodwill social club will play host to an event that is a little different from their normal programming later this month. Jenn Martens is the logistics coordinator at Manitoba Harm Reduction Network (MHRN) and one of the main organizers of said event.

As the MHRN are moving their offices in March, Martens said they saw this as an opportunity to fundraise and clear out their stock a little bit but then decided they could provide other services at the same time. “I was talking to our [one of our] network coordinators, and we decided together that we would sort of collaborate and do an event [together],” Martens said. “[The week of the event] is national Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week, so we decided to collaborate on that and then offer the HIV self test, which is a pilot program that we're involved in. Then we also [decided to offer] the Naloxone training and Naloxone kits as well.”

When it comes to Naloxone training, Martens thinks almost all Winnipeggers should learn how to administer it, and carry their own kit. “I would say most people should have [the training], specifically members of the public who are at risk for experiencing or witnessing an opioid toxicity and overdose,” Martens said. “But if you're thinking about it, really, that's everyone. So, it's important for everyone to be trained. Accessing Naloxone can sometimes be at a cost, but through us (MHRN), it's free, and we're offering the training for free as well.”

A commonly heard term from groups that work in the field of harm reduction is destigmatization. This idea of offering Naloxone training, HIV self tests and other harm reduction supplies at a social club is just one way Martens says this event is trying to pull in a broad audience and reduce the amount of stigma around these topics.

“I think by putting all of these things together and having it at the location, like at the Goodwill, it creates a more accessible, low barrier way for people to access this stuff,” Martens said. “The location of the Goodwill is obviously in one of the lowest income neighborhoods in Winnipeg, the West End - so a lot of people who live in and around the area will be able to access that. And it's a gathering place: I think having a low barrier, community based venue is important.”

“I think it normalizes it. Other people may come to the Goodwill just to have a beer or whatever, and then they can check up on the event too. So I think it really invites people from all areas of life in the community to be able to just come and check it out and not feel like there's, there's a spotlight shining on them.”

This idea of destigmatization extends past just talking about the topics: Marten wants Winnipeggers to understand the nuances of why people overdose so more people become critically engaged. “First and foremost, overdoses are drug toxicity,” Martens said. “The people are not dying because they are taking too much of their drug. It's that there is a toxic supply of drugs. They are being poisoned with things that people don't know are in them. And so if we can understand that, then we can understand what will stop people from overdosing: a safe supply of drugs. And so ultimately that's the goal.”

Going forwards, Martens hopes that overdoses will become less common, something she thinks goes along with more people understanding that overdoses are avoidable. “Every single overdose and every single overdose death is preventable. It's a policy failure… It's not an individual failure, it’s not a moral failure, it's not a personal failure, it's a policy failure. We need safe injection sites.”

MHRN will be selling their popular “I heart someone who uses drugs” shirts and other merchandise. Along with that, they will also be giving out free posters for people to hang up in their neighbourhoods, detailing what to do when someone finds a needle, and sexual health information.

Daniel McIntyre-Ridd, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf